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October 19 2011

Building books for platforms, from the ground up

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

In this interview, Jon Feldman founder, president and CEO of Open Air Publishing, talks about the development of "Speakeasy Cocktails," an ebook designed and built for the iPad. He says the book content was developed from the ground up specifically with the tablet in mind — each component was designed to take advantage of the rich ebook experience. Highlights from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Incorporating customer feedback took time, but was worth it: Feldman says incorporating beta testers in early development had a direct effect on navigation development. Consumer testers also tested the recipes and provided feedback. The customer feedback was important to product development, Feldman says, because it gave them a fresh perspective on what worked and didn't work. [Discussed at the 2:50 mark.]
  • The Big Six aren't quite getting it: "We see the big six publishing houses still haven't embraced full-on multimedia books; they're making books for paper and pushing out flat electronic versions as an afterthought to capture the channel without building for it," Feldman says. He compares current digital books to the early TV shows of the 1940s, in which the radio host was pictured talking into a microphone. [Discussed at 3:53.]
  • Marketing was key to the success of the $9.99 price tag on "Speakeasy Cocktails": Feldman says there was much leg work behind creating a recognizable brand and showing customers the value of the innovative book, separating it from the 99-cent apps and other cheap and free content. He also talks about how they settled on the $9.99 price point, as opposed to $14.99 or $19.99. [Discussed at 8:15.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.


September 21 2011

Papercut has designs on a new storytelling genre

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.

Papercut, a new iPad publishing platform developed by ustwo, is scheduled for release in late September. Jonas Lennermo, head of publishing at ustwo, recently sat down with O'Reilly's Joe Wikert to talk about the new platform. Highlights from their interview include:

  • A Papercut overview — "You could say Papercut is three things: it's a publishing platform; it could work as a storefront; and first and foremost, it's a new genre — it's a storytelling experiment." [Discussed at the 0:53 mark]
  • It's also a multi-sensory experience — "The concept is quite straightforward: you have a small, scrollable reading window, and because of the reading window, we know where the reader is in the story and we can trigger events based on what's happening in the story." Readers can hear doors close, the wind blowing, and visuals can be included as well. [Discussed at 1:33]
  • The issue of development scalability — "I think it's a hard balance because we are really keen on creating a platform so we can create these stories quite cheap and quite fast, but we don't want to be locked in to only do one thing. We still want to experiment, but mainly we want to experiment with storytelling. It's a fine balance between creating a one-off — to explore and do something brand new — but also at the same time be strategic and create a platform that you can reuse." [Discussed at 7:23]

The full discussion is available in the following video. Lennermo will talk more about ustwo and PaperCut at next month's TOC Frankfurt.

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


July 27 2011

Ebook empowerment with EPUB3

Julien Simon, CEO and founder of Walrus Books, and Jérémie Gisserot, creative manager and technical consultant at Walrus Books, have been somewhat limited in what they can do with their enhanced ebooks. They're banking on EPUB3 to change all that.

In the following interview, Simon and Gisserot discuss the advantages of EPUB3 and what they'd like to see developers do next.

Which new features in EPUB3 are most useful for your enhanced ebooks?

JulienSimon2.pngJulien: We are definitely pleased that EPUB3 specs now natively include audio and video — it's a crucial step for enhanced ebooks. Because EPUB2 did not include these features, developers (mostly Android developers) did not integrate them into their reading applications.

Jérémie: Apple used to have an advantage. Because iBooks was (and still is) using the WebKit graphic engine, Apple was the only one able to offer enhanced reading experiences. Now, with the official launch of EPUB3, we can only hope that developers — especially Android/Windows developers — will go in that direction.

Julien: EPUB3 is not a revolution for Walrus. It's a step forward. We hope that, thanks to EPUB3 specs, our enhanced ebooks will now be available on different platforms.

What has HTML5 brought to EPUB3?

JeremieGisserot.pngJérémie: HTML5 is a major step forward thanks to localStorage. LocalStorage uses iBooks' memory to remember your choices, the pages you read, the answers you gave to questions, the points you earned while reading a gamebook, and the parts of the text you chose to unhide.

Julien: Basically it gives a memory to your EPUB file — even when you close the book. This new "brain" is crucial for our gamebook development because the reader's choices need to be saved. Publishers should really consider localStorage — for us, it's like stepping on Mars ... the only limit is our imagination.

An EPUB3 demo video from Walrus Books

How about CSS3? How do you use it and how well does it work with HTML5 and EPUB3?

Jérémie: As the WebKit graphic engine is used by iBooks, most of the new features brought by CSS3 are well displayed on iPad/iPhone/iPod. We can now reduce the use of "decorative" pictures in our EPUBs. By "decorative" I mean pictures we were displaying to simulate complex layouts to fit with the printed versions of the books. We can now use boxes with rounded corners, shadows, and blurring directly inside the CSS. It's a way to clean the code and make the book much more flexible. In addition to HTML5 and Javascript, it is a great new tool for us to play with.

What changes do you see EPUB3 bringing to the publishing industry?

Julien: The publishing industry now has a great challenge to meet. Jobs are evolving — they require more flexibility and new knowledge. Young publishing teams will adapt, but in some cases a lot of work needs to be done. There are more tools than ever, both for the publisher and the writer. You now have to consider pictures, audio, video, game play, etc., as new ways to tell a story. And considering that buying an HD camera won't turn you into a Scorsese-clone over night, a lot of effort has to be put into training and learning.

To some extent, the book-reading experience will be more like watching a movie, playing a video game and using the Internet. When working on a book project, not only will a publisher and a writer sit at the publishing meeting table, but they'll be joined by a sound designer, a scriptwriter, a director, etc. The publisher's job will soon look more like a producer's job.

Why did you opt to produce only for Apple platforms?

Jérémie: Today it's more of a limitation than a choice. Only iBooks is able to interpret our enhanced EPUBs the right way. We made several attempts on other platforms, but the results were really disappointing — CSS is erased, videos cannot be played, and audio cannot be heard.

Julien: We can't wait to see developers getting involved with EPUB reading apps and making this technology work with Android, MacOS, Linux and Windows. A lot of work has to be done in that field. Ultimately, however, reading should not be a matter of devices, but of taste.

This interview was edited and condensed.

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


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